Six candidates were on stage Tuesday night in Huntsville; six candidates wanted to convince you that they should be the next governor of Alabama.
Six candidates – Lindy Blanchard, Lew Burdette, Tim James, Donald Trent Jones, Dean Odle and Dave Thomas – all willing to let the sold-out audience - as well as those watching on the live feed broadcast by 1819 News on Facebook - compare and contrast their posture and positions on a variety of issues facing this state.
Six candidates all interviewing, if you will, for the job of Chief Executive Officer of the state of Alabama; all overshadowed by the one candidate who wasn’t there, the one candidate who hasn’t managed to show up for a debate in her entire history of being governor.
“I’m disappointed that our current governor won’t be here tonight,’’ said Burdette. “I think the people of Alabama deserve more respect than that.”
On the one hand, can you blame Kay Ivey? She managed to win her last election for governor by a comfortable 20 percentage points without acknowledging her Democrat rival, Walt Maddox, or engaging in any way with her Republican primary challengers, Tommy Battle, Scott Dawson, or Bill Hightower – a primary she won by more than twice as many votes as the second-place challenger.
But then, Ivey hasn’t been much for engaging in what James calls the “bully pulpit.”
“The job of governor is more than cutting ribbons and handing out grants,’’ said James, the son of former Alabama governor Fob James, who is making his third run at the office.
“What we have not seen in a governor since, to be honest, my dad, is a governor use the bully pulpit – go around the state and talk to people and convince them of what is right and of what needs to be done, building support and putting pressure on the legislature. That’s how a governor leads.”
Can you name a piece of legislation that Ivey put forth and really pushed through this last legislative session?
When asked about her biggest regret from this session which just ended, she said it was that “they did not get the gambling bill passed.” Forget how you feel about her making that issue her biggest regret of a session in which issues like tax breaks, school choice, education and record budgets were being debated. Consider that, when asked, one of the legislators who sponsored a gambling bill admitted he had could not recall a single conversation with the governor regarding the bill – what it contained, a strategy for getting it passed, or even a visit to the State House to help line up votes.
So much for the bully pulpit.
Among the many topics the candidates discussed at the debate was of the influence of lobbyists on the state legislature. Thomas, a former state legislator and current mayor of Springville, was the only candidate who said he felt lobbyists get a bad rap, because their job is to represent teachers or farmers or small businesses or whomever, to study bills and see what might be good for the organization they represent and what might be bad.
It reminded me of a conversation I had during the legislative session about the ever-present lobbyists, working the halls of the State House, constantly pushing their agenda with legislators. As a friend and I watched the interaction, he said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the common person had lobbyists down here to work these legislators on their behalf with the same effort and enthusiasm?”
To which I said, “They do; they are called legislators. They were ‘hired’ to be the lobbyists for the people they represent.”
The polls suggest that Ivey will win another term as governor without the need to actually engage in public debate. And if politics is all about winning, it’s clearly her best strategy.
But, as Blanchard reminded the folks in Huntsville Tuesday night, “It’s the job of the governor to be the voice of the people. … It’s a governor’s duty to be the voice of the people.”
The only problem is, she has to show up for that voice to be heard.
Ray Melick is Editor-in-Chief of 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819news.com.
Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.